Published: 06/12/2013 16:05 - Updated: 06/12/2013 16:28

Dougie MacLean's life in songs

Written byMargaret Chrystall

Dougie MacLean at Strathpeffer Pavilion. Picture: Rob McDougall
Dougie MacLean at Strathpeffer Pavilion. Picture: Rob McDougall

BEING a songwriter since his teens and with 40 years in music, Dougie MacLean has plenty of songs to choose from for his live gigs.

After playing both the Heb-Celt and Belladrum festivals over the summer, Dougie is back up north on Friday for a solo gig at Strathpeffer Pavilion.

But he’s “just recovering” from the ever-growing Perthshire Amber festival he set up.

At this year’s festival, he played 10 gigs of his own – and tried to pull off a remarkable feat.

“I try not to repeat myself with any of the tunes over the 10 shows,” laughed Dougie.

“And I managed about eight!”

Ask Dougie how long he’s been writing songs for and it’s since his teens.

“My father used to do these long drives around Scotland, my sister and I would sit in the back of the car and make up songs.

“When I was about 16, there was a folk club in Blairgrowrie and I would sing them there. That’s where I really started trying to make complete songs.

“A song I still do now called ‘Kill Tomorrow’ was one of the very early ones.

“It’s a great thing to carry a song all the way.

“With my music, I’m not tied into fashion or trends.

“Something you wrote 10 or 15 years ago is still as relevant today.

“They don’t date, they grow with you and you end up with a fantastic catalogue.”

To celebrate his 40 years in music, Dougie has been working with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra for an album and a special concert next June in Glasgow Concert Hall.

“That will be one of the highlights of my career,” laughed Dougie.

“A 90-piece orchestra just sounds so incredible!”

Among the songs included will be that early one.

Also on the list will be Caledonia, the song that has become an alternative national anthem for Scots and was used as the anthem for the first year of Homecoming – the second will come next year.

Dougie said: “I think it might have helped give Scottish people a bit of self-confidence.”

A song Dougie often starts his gigs with is Holding Back which talks about both the “loving and the grieving” in life.

It reminded him of a day when he got some special feedback from fans.

“I remember getting a letter one time from a woman who had been having a baby in a ward where you were allowed to have your own music. She was thanking me for making her childbirth easier.

“The same day I got a letter from a guy who was burying his father, thanking me for his father who had been terminally ill in hospital listening to my music. He thanked me for making his father’s death easier.

“Both letters, in one day!

“If a musician ever needed something to justify his life and his music then these two letters did it for me!”

Dougie was up a ladder just before our interview, creating a studio for his new HD TV station and the Caledonia songwriter sounds just as excited about the future after 40 years in music.

He explained: “The studio’s in the old Butterstone School which I went to – and my father went to in the 30s.

“We turned it into a recording studio first and now we’re just taking those walls back to the original big room because we are doing a lot of filming here these days!”

The new venture is giving Dougie the freedom to transmit his music across the world to subscribers.

Though people came to his recent Perthshire Amber festival from 23 different countries to see music in 18 venues around Dunkeld, many more of the gigs were seen in high definition by distant fans.

“We had people watching live from Florida, California, New York, Norway, Sweden, Denmark, the Philippines, Sydney and Melbourne. It changes everything. Over the last 18 months I’ve done 15 live broadcasts, including me on my own, ones with other musicians, interviews and live chats.

“It’s a fantastic way for me to get my music out. I was in Anchorage last month – but I probably won’t be back for three years – the TV is a great way of keeping in touch meantime.

“It’s also great to get young musicians in, I’m doing guitar classes on it and teaching people to play my songs.

“But it can feel weird performing You don’t get applause – it just ends!”

He joined the Tannahill Weavers when he was 20 and will be 60 next year.

He was awarded an OBE in 2011 and back in January was presented with Radio 2 Folk Awards’ lifetime achievement award for contribution to songwriting. But being immortalised in the Scottish cartoon series The Broons rates as high – or even higher!

“The OBE was brilliant. I said to my mother ‘Go and buy a hat Mum!’ and she was thrilled. But The Broons possibly meant more to me. Sitting beside Daphne was a bit special!”

Dougie feels lucky to have made the early career choices he did.

“There are two paths you can take as a musician. If you follow one path you can be on the front of Q magazine and have a record label in London. The other means you can make a living as a musician. You have a body of work that has a certain integrity to it.

“I know lots of musicians who had big record deals now driving taxis in Glasgow. I feel pretty amazed I survived, but it keeps getting better all the time.

“Keeping it independent, you’re in charge of your own destiny.”

Dougie MacLean plays Strathpeffer Pavilion tonight (Friday).

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